Category Archives: gardening

the fruit of my labor


The fruit (and veggies) of my labor picked today.

The Yukon potatoes were the total yield grown in 2 tires, and there are still 3 traditional rows to harvest. I’d say there’s 20 pounds on the table, at least.

Lord, help me not waste this harvest.

And maybe I mean that literally and figuratively.

See you Thursday, friends.

2013 garden update


A garden is a grand teacher. It teaches patience and careful watchfulness; it teaches industry and thrift; above all it teaches entire trust. •Gertrude Jekyll 

garden update

Alrighty. We’ve had a full month’s sun and rain on the 2013 garden and here is where we stand:

The broccoli is simply amazing. Awesome. I’ve never succeeded with broccoli before and have no clue why it worked this year, but I know have a couple of quart bags of broccoli florets in my freezer. I soaked them in saltwater first to remove any hidden insects and then blanched them before freezing them. [link to preserving fresh broccoli]

The onions? Can barely see them. Their potato neighbors have grown to be 5-feet tall and have kept the root crop avenue crowded but protected… like Franklin Street. Both crops are doing well with no bugs thus far. I can’t let Abby in there, though. If she got in the potato patch, I’d never find her again.

Cherry tomatoes and canning tomatoes are doing well. Lots of green fruit on the vines which I expect to ripen this week and next. The plants grew exponentially while we were camping. I thought I’d left twice as much space as last year between plants to have room for weeding and walking. Right now, half of each plant is staked and the rest of the giant is crawling along the floor heavy-laden with fruit. Staking now will surely break the plants. I’ll have to let it go and see what happens.

No sign of the wretched tomato worms. Yet. And that is all the press-time we will give them.

The Roma tomato plants did not fair well this year… probably due to location next to the beans and excessive weeds. There are 3 or four fruits ripening, but I think 2 of my four plants are goners.

The green peppers that usually hate me? I have 4 little guys growing and looking normal. I am not convinced yet, but it’s a promising sign. The poblano peppers… I forgot to look for. They are behind the mammoth broccoli. Which reminds me that the cilantro plant was lovely and perfect… used for several meals before vacation… is now lost in the potato jungle.

What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have never been discovered.
• Ralph Waldo Emerson

The four kale plants are also doing very well. Kale is a very pretty plant. Who knew? I’ve yet to make anything with kale… advice or direction?

The green bean teepee is a huge success. As Rylie says, “WHOA.” No beans yet, but we were late to start so I am expecting those to start this week.

Yellow raspberries are blooming but are being eaten by bugs. We’ve managed to snatch a couple of fruits here and there but are not trying super hard to save the crop.

Blackberries are past flowering and nearly ripened. Almost all the green fruit is beginning to color. Last year’s crop was so large and so lovely… my mouth is watering. We’re hoping the raspberry bugs don’t hop plants.

Remember that children, marriages, and flower gardens reflect the kind of care they get.
• H. Jackson Brown, Jr. 

In summary: everything doing well. Everything needs intense weeding. Our week of 100˚weather also brought very low motivation to do anything other than swim in Trace’s pool. I’m not mad about that.

My children are still completely color blind. Lots of green tomatoes were picked last night out of excitement. BUT, they love the garden and I love that they love the garden.

Chad mentioned in the last garden post that my plant markers would grow legs and I am here to say he is a prophet.

The baby chickadees grew up and flew the coop. Two days later, a mamma robin moved in and laid 5 eggs. They are in their awkward feather-growing stage, but are easily the most-loved things in the garden.

Before planting this year, the garden received about 3 loads of composted chicken coop shavings and poo. Before our 10-day camping adventure, 2 blessed-angel-moms and their kiddos came out and worked for 3 hours with me prepping the coop and garden for the upcoming neglect. Fresh everything: fresh shavings, washed water bowls, weeding, staking plants, shaving mulch spread all over the garden. When I returned? Both the coop and garden looked exactly as we’d left it nearly 2 weeks before. Pretty as a picture. It was amazing. Again, things can change quickly, especially with a couple weeks of humidity and little weeding in daylight hours, but the garden has definitely received more loving care than ever this year and the crops are thanking us. I am hoping I can get out there and prune/clean/weed a bit this week and get things under control.

The best place to find God is in a garden. You can dig for him there.
• George Bernard Shaw 


2013 garden inventory



[warning: picture-heavy post]

Mary, Mary, quite contrary,
How does your garden grow?
With silver bells, and cockle shells,
And pretty maids all in a row.

I am trying, so very hard, to make a garden worthy of the colonies. I have dreams of bean pole tents and sunflower arbors, a bench here or there, and children merrily carrying watering cans through the straw-covered paths.

Too bad I kill 50% of what I plant, am terrified of tomato worms, and forget to weed.

But I try. I’m going to try. This year will be better. I’m turning over a new leaf.

Look! I managed to get fencing up on all four sides, though the fence mocks me. It does. It it neither straight nor plumb, but it keeps the chickens out. ALSO, I did it without the help of Curtis James (and it shows, you say). It saved him a day of measuring and making things perfect. Right now, it works, and that’s all I need.

layout 1

One third of the garden is still grass… that far right strip. The strawberry patch will move in there after this year. And that back right post surely is crooked. Wow. But, easily fixed. You can’t see the entrance… did you know it’s hard to take a wide, sweeping photo of fence and dirt? It is. But you enter on the bottom left of the photograph- right before that black tire. It’s an angled entrance. Fancy, I know.


It’s a big year for tomatoeshere at TexasNorth– 12 plants. We are out of salsa, tomato sauce, and crushed tomatoes. There are also 8 plants of cherry/grape tomatoes. Because I cannot help myself. They are so rewarding to grow. Did I mention Curt hates tomatoes? Expect some on your doorstep.


Bell peppers (both green and orange) and some poblano peppers for salsa. Peppers hate me in the garden, so we’ll just see how this plays out. I am determined to win this fight. Rylie loves peppers.


Onions and kale. We’ve never eaten kale before, so that’ll be… awesome. Also, never stored onions before… advice welcome.

bird collage

The SouthEast fence post has a birdhouse on it, and it was quickly inhabited this year by a mamma Chickadee and her eggs. They hatched 2 weeks ago and are doing well.


My berry bushes line the Western border, outside the fence. There are blackberries, yellow raspberries, strawberries, and one lone surviving blueberry plant. The strawberry hill will be moved inside the fence after this harvest, leaving only the bushes on the outside. This will be a big strawberry year for TexasNorth, too, though I doubt my own personal crop will help much. The freezer is completely out of jam and we all know Gus Man can’t eat a sandwich without JULLY.


Alright. We’ve got broccoli (which has never worked for me), and a green bean tent (which I’ve never managed to pick and freeze in time). Worst-case: a play-area for the kids. Best case: a freezer full of green beans. Which reminds me: do you freeze your green beans or can them? 


That’s sweet basil on top, potatoes on the bottom, and cilantro on the right. I’ve never grown cilantro or potatoes before… big learning curve here. When to trim? When to cover? When to pick? How to store? No idea.

Not planted yet: cucumbers, butternut squash, and yellow squash. All of the above was planted last Saturday and I just could not dig another hole to get them in. My legs STILL hurt. Abby is STILL covered in chicken coop shavings. It’s embarrassing. But, I’m purty darn proud of the results. It’s a great garden. Surely I’ll get at least one tomato out of there. The plants cost me $50 total. Not a bad investment at all, I say.

So, uh, wanna come help me weed?  

I’ve got lemonade 🙂

mary mary quite contrary

Let’s jump right in.

It was our first time for growing sunflowers… success and super fun to watch them open and follow the sun during the day.  We’ll do this again next year and maybe try to make a fort out of it.  The beans and peas never got planted.  I think a fort is in order for those next year, as well.  Maybe a la SouleMamma’s metal arbor?  I planted green peppers… again.  I do this every year and every year they laugh at me.  From now on, no more green peppers.  Just get those at the farmer’s market, Kate. #remindme

I bought some extra blueberry  and raspberry bushes on clearance and tried to plant those last night.  Better judgement would have reminded me that I had 3 children, no husband, a serious head cold, and ground as solid as cement, but we went for it.  Every one came in soaked, as you can imagine.  We’re soaking the ground to let me dig a few more inches tomorrow.  OR, we’ll wait until Dad and his muscles are able to get home before dusk.

The blueberry bushes are forcing the June-bearing strawberries to be relocated.  There was no jam this year, so we will be forced to eek out what we can from last year’s bounty.  We surely won’t make it through the year, but we’ll have a fighting start.  I haven’t bought store jam in 3 years, and I don’t think we could go back!  I need to brush up on transplanting.  Moving the strawberries and adding the blueberry bushes will create a hedge of blackberries, then blueberries, then yellow raspberries along the West garden fence.  I need to draw you a map.

(That’s Ry watering, Gus waving, and the bull out back… watching.  He stood there for a good 30 minutes taking in all in.  We’re a show, People.  We are our own show.)

The strawberries will be relocated into a permanent, more protected area within a fenced garden (hence the poles and holes everywhere).  A fence will let the chickens roam without eating all my squash and tomatoes and it’ll keep the bunnies at bay. #fingerscrossed

I planted blackberries and red raspberries last year.  We lost all the raspberry bushes (I believe they met their fate with a weed whipper, but that has been denied) but the black berries have flourished.  They were so. good.  And HUGE!  And, overnight, they’re done.  I’m learning as I go.  Tomorrow, I’ll cut all the canes down that gave us berries this year to let the new canes grow.

The corn died a terrible death… not sure what happened, exactly, but we planted 10 rows and had 4 stalks grow.  SO, that half of the garden was tilled under earlier this summer.  It’s now a dust patch for the chickens, who applauded the change.

I planted 2 butternut squash plants and they are taking over the garden.  We should be set for years.   The onions are in there under the squash vines and are doing just fine.  I need to brush up on winter storage methods.

The tomatoes- all 16 pants, some cherry, some roma, some heritage- are enormous.  I fought the tomato worms this year and won, and now the plants are so big they are snapping their stakes in half.  I should have pruned a bit harder at the start, but, well, I didn’t.  So there.  The fruit will be medium-sized instead of gi-normous, and that’s just fine.  I did plant basil plants in-between each tomato plant because I’d heard it helps ward off the caterpillars, but it was a no-go for me.  The basil is doing just fine, though, so I see some frozen pesto in our future.

2012 expected harvest: tomatoes, sunflowers, butternut squash, 3 different onions I can’t remember now, blackberries, sweet basil, and a handful of strawberries we ate before they made it inside.

More photos HERE!

How does your garden grow?

what the what


Why do I even try?

No plants, or anything beautiful ever, real or fake, will survive this farm as long as Gideon and Blue are on the loose.

9:04am, right planter

12:34pm, left planter

4:40pm, back to the right again

Suggestions as to what, exactly, I could put on our large front step (which is about 4′ by 6′) that would be welcoming but indestructible are welcome and very much needed.  Go.

to the trees

Ah, Spring.

I hope you all had a lovely Easter weekend, Spring Break, and/or Passover.  We celebrate all three at TexasNorth.  Pass the latkes.

The sunshine lately has started to loosen winter’s grip on me.  It doesn’t have to be warm, per se… just bright.  I do very much miss the sun when it is gone. I never learned that about myself until I moved to Michigan and saw that people are sad for most of January, February, and March.  God was not messing around with the whole Light and dark theme- literally or figuratively.  He’s pretty brilliant about extended metaphors.

When the sun is out, so are we.  While Curtis James was in Austin last week, Ry and I worked on another time-buster.  This one went decidedly better than the flowers thanks to Gus being banish-ed from the project.  Please.  Acrylic paint?  Not a chance.  This one couldn’t be easier:

Simply gather a bunch of large-ish rocks, have your kiddo(s) paint the background color,

And then finish by painting the crop name on top.  I should grab a smaller brush and put the year planted, too.  Just thought of that.

I want very much to do this with samples of all our trees on the property (which are surprisingly few, as this used to be cleared pasture land) as well as the garden.

These apple trees are very special to me… our first fruit trees, one for Rylie and one for Gideon.  Abby will get hers this year (metaphors abound here, too… but that’s for another day).  I knew we’d forget over time what kind of goodies we were growing, so I thought this would be a quick way to label.  Love me some labeling.  

Now to find rocks for the blackberry bushes, the blueberry bushes, the strawberries… and maybe a few for basics like tomatoes and peppers.  I love that all the rocks are unique… that Ry helped me (even just a little bit)… that it’s another ‘theme’ (like HERE)… that it’s simple… that the rocks are super heavy.

It will take Gus all day to carry them and move them and hide them.  I should have plenty of time to catch him before SQUASH becomes CORN.

As an aside, a reflection, an admission or what-have-you…

I thought that my history of teaching and leading ropes courses and being a camp counselor and  Red Cross babysitter would give me the creativity and desire to have these kind of projects at-the-ready when I had kids.  Learning all the time!  Fun all the time!  Creative all the time!  Sadly, my laziness wins 90% of the time I have an opportunity to do things Awesome instead of Basic.  I find myself crashing through life more than sailing… largely due to my serious aversion to planning.  I’d like to change that… or at least get better at it.  I bet my crazy days would be at least a teensy bit more bearable if I had a fun surprise ready if the stars aligned.  Especially this summer.

That being said, I am very pleased with myself for thinking ahead on the planting and the painting… two very short projects but ones that involved the kids and let us spend time together in non-routine ways.  Baby steps, people.  Baby steps.

I started a Kid and Play board over at Pinterest to save all the great lists and ideas I come across.  Some of these women I read about are insane and I kinda wanna punch them (hey)… but it’s certainly good for inspiration.  Lemme know how you work creativity and fun into your kids’ life.  

killer salsa

My favorite salsa recipe:

  • 8-10 cups of tomatoes, chopped and drained of juice (I use 10 cups)
  • 2 bell peppers, chopped
  • 2-4 jalapenos, chopped (I use 2)
  • cilantro, chopped 
  • 3 onions (small to medium), chopped 
  • 1 cup white vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon black pepper (this kicks a bit, which is why I only use 2 jalapenos)
  • 1 tablespoon garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup or less of white sugar
  • 6 oz. tomato paste

Throw everything in a large pot, simmer for at least one hour (or several intervals over a couple of days if you’re me and have crazy children WHO TOUCH EVERYTHING), and then ladle into hot jars and water bath for 20 minutes. I get 5 pints out of this batch… pretty small compared to some of the recipes out there.  But, it’s great for one day of salsa-making.  You can also put this straight in the fridge (without canning) for up to a month. I don’t recommend freezing salsa… it thaws a bit mealy and just isn’t quite the same level of awesomeness.  Use it immediately, or can it for the rest of the year.

Let me be frank here: I am no canning expert, and neither was your grandmother.  Hot water baths for canning salsa are ONLY OK if the recipe comes from a trusted canning and kitchen website.  Tomatoes themselves are acidic, as is the vinegar, but every other ingredient you add or subtract changes that pH level.  Even one little bell pepper.  I know.  It’s a little crazy… but you just want to be extra careful.  It’s going to be sitting on your shelf for up to a year and we want it to be yummy and safe.  When in doubt, use a pressure canner. 

That being said, this is a friend’s recipe I’ve used ever since I’ve been canning on my own… 5 years maybe?  I hot water bath this recipe- as listed- and have had no trouble with spoilage or anything else.  But, again, I am a mere farm maiden mortal. 

Happy salsa-making!

a couple of great websites for you: